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I remember being in elementary school and overhearing a friend bragging about her $5 reward from the tooth fairy. Five dollars? I only got one dollar from the tooth fairy! How unfair! I quickly learned that not only did my family have a different amount of money than other families, but that I too would grow up to have less money than some friends and more than others.
Money is being spent all around us—whether our friends are buying houses, cars, designer purses or tricked out baby strollers. It can feel discouraging to see others have when you have not. It can also feel awkward when you’re the one rolling in the dough and your friends are going through dire straits. Either way, money is often a difficult and stressful subject.
My parents taught me at a young age to be cautious of discussing money with friends, because doing so can lead to feelings of jealousy, resentment and discontentment. It can also trigger a temptation to compare, or to judge someone for their spending. But, as damaging as money conversations can be, they aren’t always harmful. How do you know when it’s appropriate to talk money and when it isn’t?
Do give God the glory.
“I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.” Psalm 13:6 (NIV)
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Any conversation about your promotion, new boat or the like is an opportunity to point to the goodness of God. I wrote this short blog post in 2010 about how little furniture my husband and I have had to buy thanks to the generosity of family and friends. We've also been blessed to travel to places we couldn't afford thanks to help from my parents. I can think of so many gifts that I’ve received because God loves me and is looking out for me.
Don’t divulge specific numbers.
Your salary should be kept private—no exceptions. (If you’re married, you should never share what your spouse earns.) It’s also best not to share how much you spend on your mortgage, car payments, student loans or big purchases.
Do know whom you can trust, and who is genuinely looking for help.
I’ve had a couple close friends ask me how much my home cost as they prepare to start saving for a house. I don’t mind sharing a general idea of what my husband and I spent as long as I know that their motive is to truly receive insight into how much similar homes might cost in our area. Sometimes sharing money tips can be beneficial, but it truly depends on the circumstance and the person who is asking for information. Think long and hard about whether it’s wise to share information, and don’t feel guilty if your gut is telling you to keep mum.
Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m uncomfortable discussing this.”
When it comes to learning specifics about a friend’s finances, ignorance truly is bliss! If someone starts being a bit too forthcoming about her situation, do everyone a favor and gently cut the conversation short. This might feel awkward, but it could do more help than harm to your relationship. Think of it this way: You’re not just protecting yourself; you’re also protecting your friend. If you can, simply change the subject away from money matters. Or, use that opportunity to explain why you’re uncomfortable. Your friend might not understand, but she’ll most likely appreciate your honesty. (Friends, if I’ve ever made you uncomfortable, please forgive me!)
Do be mindful of other’s budgets.
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Many of the fun things we do with our friends cost money—eating out, movies, pedicures, shopping… the list goes on. We can’t always know if our friend’s going-out budget is tapped for the month, but we can use our best judgment when it comes to suggesting things to do. I’m blessed to have friends that share my desire to have fun without breaking the bank, and we all have a similar way of suggesting a variety of activities—some free, some that are inexpensive, and then one or two splurge options. But if you know a friend is truly strapped for cash, don’t burden her by asking her out to coffee or lunch (unless you’re offering to pick up the bill). Instead, invite her over to your home or suggest going on a walk.
Don’t offer to pay if you might hold a grudge.
Back when I was in college my sister came to visit and we went out for lunch. She paid for everything, and when I protested she replied something along the lines of, “You can take me out to lunch when you’re a bit older and have an income, but for now let me bless you.” I didn’t forget her words, and a few years later I treated her to a meal. I respected the way she extended generosity while voicing an opportunity for me to be generous in return. Now, if I’m out for coffee with a friend who is short for cash, I’ll say, “Why don’t I get it this time and you can pay for mine next time?” The key to this back-and-forth arrangement is that you shouldn’t be keeping tabs. If your friend forgets that it’s her turn to pay, just ask for separate checks. One helpful question to ask yourself is if I pay for a friend, will I resent her if she never pays for me?
Do take opportunities to talk about giving.
“She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.” Proverbs 31:20 (NIV)
While I certainly wouldn’t recommend sharing numbers, I believe talking about giving can spark ideas and inspiration. I love to update my friends on the missionaries and Christian organizations that my husband and I support, and doing so often leads to deeper conversation. For example, instead of exchanging stockings at Christmas my husband and I each fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child. Many of my friends are involved with Compassion International, and some have even met the children they sponsor. It’s encouraging to hear how believers are spreading Christ to others through giving.
Which of these tips struck your conscience the most? Are there any ways you could better discuss (or not discuss) money?
Laura Rennie lives in Maryland with her hilarious husband and constantly shedding dog. She loves reading, writing and playing word games. Her greatest desire is to share Jesus through her words and actions as she learns how to be a better wife, daughter, sister and friend.